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The Chicago Typewriter
AKA The trench broom, the Tommy Gun, the Chicago Typwriter, the Chopper, Ukulele music, the Chicago Organ grinder.

The Thompson submachine gun became famous not as it was intended to be by it's namesake/originator General John Taliaferro Thompson. It was originally designed to help the U.S. troops that was at war during that time.Unfortunately for the designers, the war was over before they could demonstrate the awesome power unleashed by the Thompson submachine gun.
The real designers were Oscar V. Payne and Theodore H. Eickhoff.The two were comissioned by Thompson to come up with an auto rifle that would help in the war effort.After a few dismal failures, the autorifle design ended and they began steering towards a machine gun that could fire .45 pistol ammo.The Trench broom as Thompson called it, would do the trick.
With the first world war over they tried to pitch their new weapon to police forces around the country.Some bought a few but not the amount that was expected.
Chicago in the Twenties would be where the Tommy Gun made it's history.
Lots of speculation a to when the first time the Tommy was used in Chicago. Sept 25, 1925 by Frank McErlane against Spike O'Donnell.
The shooter who was not used to this new weapon blasted the wall where O'Donnell was standing, but missed his intended target.Police who arrived on the scene could not figure out why so many bullets where fired.They assumed there were at least several gunmen that fired at Spike.
The next time a gangster hitspot  was jackhammered with bullets police had figured out the riddle and put two and two together.They figured out it was the work of the new fangled Thompson Submachine gun. Police quickly realized they where behind in the arms race and  also began arming themselves with the thompson.

The Thompson Submachine gun The one in the case is a replica of the 1921 model which was favored by the Chicago gangsters of the 1920's
The lower model is that of a 1928 model without the vertical fore grip as in the 1921 model.
(Mario Gomes collection)

The thompson could be fired with the buttstock removed making it like a machine pistol.Many gangsters preferred this method when drive-by shooting from a moving vehicle.
(Mario Gomes collection)

The Thompson had different ammo magazines to choose from.On the right the standard 20 round clip called the XX and the drum type magazine which came in 50 rounds and 100 rounds called the type L and the type C.
Removing the winding key allows for the drum to be opened to install the rounds of ammunition which are fed by rotating arms (rotor).
The unwinding at the end that is caused by the arms following through (due to no more ammo left) sounded a lot like a ukulele being strummed.Thus many referred to it as ukulele music when using a thompson.
The bullet type used was .45 ACP rounds.ACP stands for Automatic Colt Pistol cartridges.
(Mario Gomes collection)

While we are on the subject of music, many gangsters had violin cases,trumpet cases ,golf bags etc... converted to accept a thompson as the picture above.Much to the dismay of the actual musicians who at the time where constantly teased about their cases containing a machine gun and that they were referred to as gangsters.  
(Mario Gomes collection)

Another favorite weapon of the gangtser was the blackjack pictured between the drum and buttstock.Some preferred to use a cake of soap in a sock.This could kill a person by hitting them at the base of the neck.
(Mario Gomes collection)

The thompson has an impressive cycle rate of fire. Anywhere from 600 to 800 shots per minute.
(Mario Gomes collection)

The thompson machinegun's handiwork in Chicago on February 14,1929 .
(Mario Gomes collection)

The two thompsons pictured above are replicas.One is of abs plastic that shoots bb's and the other in the violin case is an exact wood and metal replica that shoots blanks (caps).It was made by the Japan Model gun Company in the 1990's.They no longer exist. The blowback action is quite amazing and very real like.

Check out the replica thompson in firing mode by clicking on the thompson photo below. It is a video made by my friend Mark Knudson.

For further indepth info on the Thompson submachinegun please check out this outstanding site at

Colt 1911 another favorite of the twenties gangster.

First Posted June 2006